Judge Allows|Bioweapon Charges

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge Thursday refused to dismiss charges against a San Francisco political consultant accusing of possessing a weaponized biological toxin.
     Ryan Kelly Chamberlain was arrested on June 2, 2014 after a 3-day FBI manhunt. Records of lethal poisons purchased on the dark Web and shipped to Chamberlain prompted the FBI to raid his apartment after several weeks of surveillance.
     His attorney Jodi Linker sought dismissal of the toxin charges in June, calling the statute under which he is being prosecuted unconstitutionally vague. Linker wrote that the person who sent Chamberlain the highly toxic substance abrin did not send chemically purified abrin, but crushed rosemary peas, which can be used to make abrin.
     As with the similar toxin ricin, even a tiny exposure to abrin may be fatal.
     At a hearing this week, Linker said that the FBI agents’ confiscation of vials containing a bit of powder is not sufficient evidence that Chamberlain intended to poison anyone.
     “This was the whole plant. It was crushed up but it was the whole plant,” Linker said. “There was nothing done to it to take out the abrin. I don’t know at what point we get to to be covered as a toxin.”
     U.S. District Judge Vincent Chhabria indicated that while he understood Linker’s reasoning, he was inclined to believe Chamberlain’s conduct fell within the statute. “I’m not sure, but possessing a couple of vials of power of crushed rosary peas that contains abrin crosses that line,” Chhabria said.
     U.S. Code Section 175(a) makes it illegal to knowingly possessing a toxin for use as a weapon.
     Section 175(b) imposes a 10-year prison sentence on anyone found to posses a biological agent or toxin, excluding any agent or toxin that “is in its naturally occurring environment, if the biological agent or toxin has not been cultivated, collected, or otherwise extracted from its natural source.”
     “The rosary pea is not a toxin; it’s what is in the rosary pea that is a toxin,” Chhabria said. “So the abrin is arguably in its naturally occurring environment if it’s in the pea, but once it’s crushed up and in a vial, it’s not in its naturally occurring environment.”
     In his ruling Thursday, Chhabria said that both sections “present serious vagueness issues,” and that 175(b) is particularly hard to understand.
     “But as applied to this case, section 175(b) gives a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that it is illegal to knowingly possess as many as two thousand lethal doses of abrin in the form of crushed rosary pea powder without a peaceful purpose, as the government alleges Chamberlain did. And section 175(a) gives a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that it is illegal to possess abrin for use as a weapon, as, again, the government alleges Chamberlain did,” Chhabria wrote. “Sections 175(a) and 175(b) are therefore not unconstitutionally vague as applied to Chamberlain’s alleged conduct.”

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